Spotlight on our people: meet Alex

An introduction to new hire Alex, Senior Software Developer at [ui!]uk, in our team blog series: spotlight on our people.

1. Why are smart cities so important?

While the recent public health crisis that continues to encompass our lives has presented us with challenges many would have dismissed as unthinkable little more than a year ago, we must not lose sight of the huge opportunity we now have to resolve many of the systematic issues we experienced pre-pandemic. These problems crossed paths with our daily lives in multiple forms; from relative inconveniences such as a lack of adequate seating space on our commuter trains or being held up in busy road traffic, to burning injustices such as insufficient safe and affordable accommodation, outdated infrastructure that is no longer fit for purpose and a degraded environment – with many of these issues stemming from years of relentless pressure on public services. We are presented with a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild core elements of our cities to accommodate sustainable expansion built on renewable resources, diversified local economies and responsible development. Smart cities are going to play a crucial role in evidence-based decision making by giving leaders vital insights into how their districts operate and models to help them obtain meaningful predictions about future demands.

2. What’s the most exciting innovation project I know about?

Vehicle to Grid (V2G) charging is, in my view, the next big step forward towards implementation of a “smart grid”. The theory behind V2G charging is that we can use the substantial energy storage capacity of an electric vehicle (EV) to support demand on the grid at peak times. This might seem a relatively subtle advance in technology right now, but as we increasingly depend on energy generation from renewables, we need an effective method of storing surplus energy generated for later use when demand might outstrip supply. Unlike with fossil fuels, we don’t have the flexibility to just increase the wind speed or make the sun shine brighter when we require more energy, so we need to think of practical ways to make the grid responsive to changes in demand. Several publicly and privately funded innovation projects are already ongoing to determine the best way to deliver compatible infrastructure as well as the live data and artificial intelligence (AI) necessary to understand how, when and where it will be most effective. When combined with suitable data analytics and automation, there is massive potential to deliver value from your EV even when it is idle on your driveway.

3. Which smart city tools are really important?

Many cities are already implementing various types of sensors as a means of collecting continuous data relating to key indicators such as air quality, traffic density, noise levels, footfall and travel times between primary routes. In essence, this is a great first step – having instant and constant access to precise data is a key driver in providing accurate insights and educated foresights. However, data in isolation has limited value. As a simplified example, think about how many tools you’re using to interact with your computer or mobile device right now – the computer has massive capabilities and is providing you with access to vast amounts of information almost instantaneously, but without the tools you use to interact with that computer – these might be a keyboard and mouse (or your fingers in the case of a mobile device), a screen reader or a display – you might as well not have the computer as you can’t utilise the functionality it offers you. The same goes for smart cities – data you collect is immensely powerful but only when combined with tools to digest it and produce a useful output. It is essential to have a data platform capable of not only centralising all that data in one location, but also using it to recognise trends and trigger automated actions.

4. What’s next for smart cities?

Despite technology being readily available to collect sensor data and produce meaningful insights and analytics, smart cities are still very much in their infancy. With ongoing financial constraints faced by local authorities, the future is likely to be a gradual transition towards automation in city management. That said, the benefits of making investment in sensor technology and, crucially, an accompanying urban data platform should be measurable at a very early stage when you consider that moving from manual processes to automated management can be achieved in a staggered and risk averse manner. Simply having access to basic data-based intelligence and feeding discoveries into current manual processes will deliver a tangible return on investment promptly, but in the longer term cities should consider re-investing returns to maximise the benefits smart data can deliver and reduce the time from observation to response. [ui!] UrbanPulse provides solutions for bringing data from multiple sensors and data sources into one platform and is capable of natively delivering instantaneous visualisations, making processed data openly available in almost any appropriate format (including bespoke APIs, ready for integration with software you already trust) and even triggering automations from complex events with multiple triggers. [ui!] UrbanPulse is designed to scale with your city - expanding painlessly as you make more data available – and can be self-hosted or easily integrated into your existing public cloud platform.

5. Why did I choose [ui!]uk?

[ui!]uk recognises the fundamental shift on the horizon as cities migrate from outdated and inefficient manual management processes – which are often unevenly delivered and lack effective business continuity plans – to automated delivery and optimisation of public infrastructure. A strong evidence-based understanding how residents and businesses utilise the infrastructure available to them is critical to planning and delivering meaningful improvements. Not only that, but as the public understandably demands more efficient, accessible, affordable and environmentally friendly means of mobility, [ui!]uk is delivering innovations that will undoubtedly play a key role in urban development looking forward. I’m thrilled to be part of the team spearheading that change and am keen to assist in delivering these innovations with privacy, security and resilience in mind.

6. What’s my background?

As a driven technologist and entrepreneur, my career started at a very young age where my passion for understanding customer needs, wants, priorities and expectations came into focus. I quickly learned how effective project management and risk analysis was critical to delivering successful outcomes. This naturally evolved into taking enterprising opportunities up and down the country.

Adulthood quickly arrived and with that came a personal focus shift towards independence, sustainability and self-sufficiency. After completing my degree in Mobile Computing, I devoted my attention to improving resident and business interaction with local government by project managing the delivery of self-service web-based applications, shortening the feedback loop between the public and authorities. During this time, I gained a strong understanding of agile software development and worked with several frontend frameworks and programming languages, whilst learning the importance of digital accessibility.

Personal interests include exploring the outdoors and checking places off the map, so I’m not afraid of long journeys and particularly enjoy the excitement of rail travel. Multiple genres of music, podcasts and audiobooks usually fill my downtime, although I love the escapism and immersion that can only come from seeing a blockbuster at the cinema.

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